Former St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School student Phillip Small Jr., is aspiring to become a career livestock farmer but a potentially life-threatening disease is standing in his way.
Small, who turned 18 on May 13 this year, was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma cancer in 2018 suddenly dislocating his school life, putting a halt to an active involvement in sports, slashing his weight by 20 pounds within a month and plunging him on a journey of surgeries, lots of medication and isolation from everyone but his immediate family.
Medical scientists say that Hodgkin’s lymphoma — formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease — is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of one’s immune system. They say it may affect people of any age, but is most common in people between 20 and 40 years old and those over 55.
The experts explain that in Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond it. The scientists note that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system, pointing out that the other type, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is far more common.
But the medical officials also report that advances in diagnosis and treatment of this disease have given people with it the chance for a full recovery, and that the prognosis continues to improve for those with Hodgkin’s.
In Small’s case, doctors in Barbados have given him a 90 per cent recovery rate from the cancer, while those overseas have lifted his hopes to 98 per cent.
As is the case with stage 4 lymphoma, which occurs when the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body outside of the lymphatic system, the malignancy has attacked the bone marrow of this budding football star.
Small, who comes from a family of four sisters, a mother and father, has already gone through months of medical procedures including blood work, tests and chemotherapy between Barbados, Canada and Miami at an estimated cost of between $30,000 and $40,000 per year.
But even though he has made it through the numerous procedures so far, Small told Barbados TODAY his main fear now is the success of a pending stem cell transplant in India, which is designed to rid his body of all the cancer.
“I think that we passed the worst. The only thing that I was really worrying about is the stem cell transplant because I didn’t really know anything about it. It is something new and plus, I got to go all the way to India,” he said.
Small said he had therefore done research on the procedure in order to get a better understanding of what was in store and to reassure himself.
“It is not really something to harm you. The cancer has to come to like total… you are not supposed to have any in your body when you undergo this transplant. It’s supposed to help you not allow it to come back again. Like all of the residue or any scars that are left back, this thing is supposed to wipe it out, or clean it out,” the young cancer sufferer told Barbados TODAY.
As he reflected on the start of his cancer journey, the former St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School student recounted the first symptoms of what he later found out to be Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Before I got diagnosed, I played football. That is how I first noticed that something was wrong, because I was getting very tired very fast, and I lost some pounds very quickly. I would say about 20 pounds in a month,” he declared. “And then I got a checkup. My mom sent me for a checkup… some blood work. That is when I confirmed something was wrong with me,” he added.
Small pointed out that patients with his type of cancer would normally have to go through a long series of treatment courses before the disease is identified. However, he told Barbados TODAY, the doctor to whom he went was “very spot on.”
“It happened really good for me that I didn’t have to go through so much waste-of-time because it was already spreading throughout my body… it was in my marrow. From there, I got put straight onto a doctor at the hospital (Queen Elizabeth Hospital).
“At the hospital now, I had to take a biopsy and my biopsy was sent to Canada and they diagnosed me with stage 4 lymphoma cancer. From there, I had to go to Miami for some treatment. I started treatment in Barbados first. It was six months of treatment in Barbados,” he recalled.
Small remembered getting financial help from the Sandy Lane Children’s Charity for a three month treatment at the Miami Cancer institute.
“When I came back to Barbados, the cancer was in remission… and I was not taking treatment for about four to six months. Then I had to go back to Miami for a checkup. When I went back for a checkup, they found two spots in my chest,” the teenager recalled.
He said he returned to Barbados once again just before the COVID-19 struck here. That was when local doctors sought to determine whether to send him to India for the stem cell transplant.
“They were saying if I don’t get a stem cell transplant, the cancer could keep coming up, coming up all the time. How the stem cell transplant works, is that they would take all the blood out of my body… all the white blood cells and the red blood cells that they would need… and then they would just apply chemo and that is supposed to kill out all the cancer in my body,” Small stated.
But from the discovery of his cancer until now, the impact on family, friends and himself has varied from fear of losing his hair, which he did not, to a doting father spoiling him to the point of “over protection.”
The all-round support for this “people person” – as Small described himself – has been unmistakable. Apart from the Sandy Lane Charity and his family, helping hands have been extended by his church – Power in the Blood – the Barbados Cancer Society, and the Kiwanis Barbados Central.
In fact, the Kiwanis are looking to raise some $8,000 to assist Small with medical expenses by hosting a virtual Gospel Concert on Saturday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. Barbadians are being urged to support the fund-raiser through financial donations via Ticketlinkz which would automatically allow them access to the star-studded zoom show.
The concert, entitled Let’s Join Hands for Phillip, will be hosted by Miss World Barbados 2019 Che Greenidge and features performances by the likes of international award-winning local artiste Neesha Woodz, John Yarde, Keann Walters, Mya Daniel, Trenacia Esseboom and Albert Parris.
Even after the concert, individuals and businesses may still donate to this worthy cause via CIBC First Caribbean account number 150-30-40. (EJ)
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